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Thailand

03.12.2006

Hong Kong to Bangkok

We had a short three...hour flight to Bangkok then took a five-hour taxi ride to our home stay in Chanthaburi. Dominique was the first experience the effect of drinking tap water in Hong Kong with an upset stomach at the airport—luckily we were prepared. Both kids discovered that rotating fans cause injuries. Annette’s was just a bruise but Dominique got four good slices in her finger and lost about a teaspoon of blood. Again, we were prepared with a first aid kit in the backpack, so we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves.

We’ve seen how Thai people love kids. An immigration official picked us out of a long line and moved us up to a VIP line with no wait. Everyone else has been really friendly, including the police at the checkpoint.

Our home stay hosts (Jacques and Orn) have been very gracious. They have two sons (Itsara and Kim)—nine and four—who have been playing with the girls. They also have a French family staying here (Frances, Monica, and kids—13, 6 and 11 months [Rubin]) who have been traveling for seven months and will be traveling for a total of two years. At dinner last night, we had people that spoke French, Thai, Spanish and English. The kids had no problems playing even though none of the kids but our spoke English. Dinner was a Thai-spread. The girls ate the rice.

Over the next couple of days, we’re going to see and do a number of traditional Thai things. I’m so glad we decided to do this since I know our stay in Chiang Mai and Bangkok will be more tourist-oriented, which is OK, but it’s nice to see both views.

03.13.2006

Chanthaburi Home stay

Darren and Dominique slept in one cabin and Annette and I slept in another. Annette slept all night so I think she's now on the right time zone. We got up early this morning to offer food to the village monk. It was neat to be part of a local tradition.

monk-offering

Jacques then took us to some neighbors so that we could see how they make rubber, then to another neighbor who showed us how she makes bamboo baskets, then to the local market for lunch. After lunch, Dominique and I had a Thai massage. It was really cool doing it with her. She wants to try everything we do, which is really cool. The ladies loved her and everyone in the market said how beautiful they were and that they looked like Barbie dolls. Oar said she heard many people talking about them. We're in a part of Thailand where they rarely see visitors (we haven't seen any besides Jacques' guests) and we certainly wouldn't be able to see so much without Jacques since no one speaks English and these things (rubber making, basket weaving) are part of their daily life, not a tourist act. A day laborer's daily wage is 150 baht, which is about $3. The rubber makers earn $1.50 for each rubber mat they make ($18/ day), which is considered good money. The massage was $3, and the ladies were such a happy group. It's so nice to be in a place where everyone is so friendly and happy, and money is not a factor.

Random observations for the day:

  • Annette loves the Thai toilet. She gets to pour water without anyone complaining about the mess. She also loves the hose, which is used in place of toilet paper.
  • Both kids love the bidet in Hong Kong. It's very funny.

03.14.2006

Chanthaburi Home stay—Day 2

My birthday. Not the greatest day. Annette woke up at 4:30 and was tough to handle for much of the day. Dominique needs a serious nap—she's acting immature and not playing very well with the other kids. I've been trying to teach her not to cheat but she continues, so now she's having a hard time finding anyone who wants to play pick-up sticks with her. I hope she learns the lesson soon because it's getting really old.

We went for a hike to a waterfall today. It was only about a thirty minute hike but Dominique got blisters and Annette only walked about a third of the way so Darren and I had to carry Annette for much of it. When we reach the falls, Dominique couldn't go in since her blister stung, and there were a large number of bees, so I was on super-alert since I'm so allergic to them. We also stopped to see how cisterns are made. That was a pretty amazing process. We had lunch at the market and we had a tough time getting Annette to eat much since she was so tired.

forest-monkey

We got back to the house around 3:30 pm so I forced the girls to have a forty-five minute nap. Annette was even worse after that since I had to wake her up. Overall, a tough day.

My random observations for the day:

  • Take what you think the girls can do physically and cut it in half if they're sleepy.
  • Cut back the schedule to allow sleep time—this has been tough here since dinner is not served until 7:30 pm, so they are not getting to bed until close to 9:00 pm.
  • Self-catering is a better bet for us because we can eat when we need to, ideally with a Bread & Breakfast or farm stay to meet other people.
  • Everyone but Americans do so much more travel, especially the British and German.

03.15.2006

Chanthaburi Home stay—Day 3

Annette woke up at 4:30 am again today. She acted really well but you could tell she was tired. We left at 8:00 am to climb at Buddhist holy site frequented only by Thai people. The “easy” hike was three hours, and I ended up carrying Annette most of the way up, which was great exercise. It was really neat to be part of something where there were no other tourists. The girls were pretty freaked out about everyone touching them, since they're not used to seeing blond kids.

We left the guest house at 1:45 pm and arrived at the hotel in Bangkok at 6:15 pm. I picket the hotel attached to the airport to catch the flight to Chiang Mai tomorrow. I knew the room would be “over-priced” but dinner was ever worse—more than $60 for two burgers, a sandwich and a personal pizza. The girls were so tired they hardly ate anything, and then they fell asleep as soon as they hit the pillow. It's amazing how expensive Bangkok is versus the rural areas. The price of one burger is the same as one night's accommodation. The girls told me that their favorite things about Chanthaburi were the two hikes (actually it was riding on the back of the truck in the mountain taxi—a very bumpy road with lots of laughs, and for Dominique, the fact that she kept pace with a nine-year old boy), and playing with the other kids. I really enjoyed seeing how the local people live without the tourists. The people were very friendly and they all wanted to touch the kids. They did not heckle us at the markets and it felt very safe. I feel very lucky to have seen Thailand with no tourists. I know we'll see many more and we'll have many more crowds and higher prices over the next couple of weeks. I'm glad we went to Chanthaburi first. The kids played so well with the other kids, I'm not sure they even knew that they couldn't speak English.

03.16.2006

Bangkok to Chiang Mai—Mae Sa Valley—Day 1

We took the one-hour flight to Chiang-Mai and drove to Mae Sa Valley resort. It's a really neat place with about 50 bungalows on a hillside looking over beautiful gardens. The bungalows are a bit run down, but we've got a suite with two bedrooms, so it feels great to have so much space. We had a low-key day and got the girls (well, Dominique) to take a nap (Annette found stickers and stayed awake plastering them all over her body). Then we went to the pool, which was surprisingly cold. There are only about eight couples staying here, so the place is really empty. I had a really tough time booking this place, so I'm not surprised. I'd love to own something like this, but on a smaller scale. The maintenance is huge, and they're not doing a good job. We discovered a huge ants' nest in the toilet, so that was one of the first experiences that the girls have had with real tropical life. Thank goodness I grew up in Cayman or that could have bothered me too. When we disturbed them, they swarmed the whole bathroom.

My random observations for the day:

  • Thailand is very friendly. I'm feeling none of the security issues that I read about, although we are locking our things away.
  • Dominique is getting the picture that there are many languages. She said “hello” in Japanese to a Japanese tourist and “thank you” in Thai at dinner.
  • Dominique is acting so immature. I'm not sure if it's lack of sleep, age, or the trip, but I hope she stops soon. I'm so tired of talking to her about cheating and being a bully. When she's good, she's very good.

03.17.2006

Bangkok to Chiang Mai—Mae Sa Valley—Day 2

We got up early and walked to the elephant show. The show was cool—elephants playing soccer and harmonica, doing art and various other tricks. We also went on an elephant ride, fed bananas to the elephants and saw a one-year old baby elephant. The kids had a great time. I was really scared that Annette would fall off the elephant since the platform since she's so darn independent, she wouldn't let me hold on, but she didn't. It's funny how relaxed everyone is outside of the US on ways that kids could get hurt.

After the hike back, we had a short dip in the pool and then lunch. After lunch, I had a Thai massage and then took Dominique to a Batik class. That was really cool. I'm surprised how well Dominique did at it since it took two hours of very detailed work. It's going to be a really neat souvenir. We're probably going to sign-up for paper making tomorrow.

Overall, a very good day. The kids had a great time at the elephant camp. We definitely did it right by avoiding the heat and the crowds. The exercise walk was good. Then I had some along time with the massage (~$12), then some quality by splitting up the kids. It's going to take us a while to get a good rhythm going to make sure we do all these things, but we're definitely improving each day.

We had to ask the hotel to do our laundry for us. We also did it three days ago. We're getting so dirty in the heat and the dust. At least I've not had to do anything by hand yet. This hotel is working out really well. It's on beautiful grounds in a good location and it's nice to be able to walk to the craft school. I'm really pleased with my accommodation choices so far.

03.18.2006

Bangkok to Chiang Mai—Mae Sa Valley—Day 3

We had a nice day today. The girls and I walked to the Botanical Gardens in the morning. There wasn't much for the girls to see but I got some good pictures and the girls got a couple of pretty fans. In the afternoon, Dominique and I had a paper-making class. We picked flowers and leaves from the garden and put them in the paper. It was very interesting. We also received our Batik. What cool souvenirs. Dominique really enjoyed the paper-making and she was really excited about her Batik. Tomorrow we move on to Chiang Dao Nest for three nights. I think three nights is about perfect for each location.

Dominique mentioned that she misses her school friends tonight. I was wondering when that would happen. We're going to need to get on some kind of schedule to start communicating with her friends and doing some school work. We've been trying to do some school work in the early evening, but that doesn't work so well. Mornings are best but because of the heat, we've been trying to do our activities then. We've also needed to get both girls to take naps since they really need them. It's amazing how quickly the day goes by. The kids are definitely learning things without the work books (e.g. about the elephants, Batik, papermaking, swimming, culture, languages etc.), but we still need to build in reading, writing and math skills. We'll figure it out, but it's amazing how much time really goes into learning—and how much can be so easily wasted by TV.

03.19.2006

Chiang Dao—Chiang Dao Nest—Day 1

We arrived at Chiang Dao Nest around noon—a really cute place with beautiful grounds and little huts, but no air-conditioning (I knew it—it gets cool at night but it's tough at nap time). The massage lady comes at 2:00, so I got a two-hour traditional Thai massage. She was very good. I had no idea that my legs could twist around my neck! Most of it was pretty painful, but I assume there's some benefit to it, so I survived. After the massage, I joined Darren and the girls at the cabana. The girls were playing golf with the owners' (Stuart and Wicha) son Joseph, who is five. He can speak both Thai and English, but the language doesn't seem to be very important to the games they play.

coloring

Dinner was incredible. The owner is a professionally trained chef who worked in a £50 per plate restaurant in London. The dinners are ten-times more expensive that Chanthaburi (300 baht versus 30 baht), but $7.50 for these top-class meals is amazing. The huts are basic, but it's been nice staying in a small place and getting to know everyone. There's only one other family here—a physician from Washington with his son, visiting his sister who works in Bangkok with the United Nations (Shawn, Seema and Daniel). Apparently this place draws many top officials because of the food. You really do get to meet some interesting people when you travel. I'm so glad we're doing it to keep our minds open and interested in learning.

03.20.2006

Chiang Dao—Chiang Dao Nest—Day 2

We signed up for an elephant trek through the woods today. This was more authentic that the walk around the elephant park—just four men and four elephants that met us on a shaky platform by the roadside. Again, I was a nervous wreck trying to hold onto Annette without her knowing that I was trying to hold on, but she stayed on. The woods were not pretty because all the undergrowth had been burned—apparently to prevent forest fires since it's been so dry and they are heading into the hottest months. March is definitely the best time to visit Thailand—it's cool (relatively), no rain, few tourists and few mosquitoes, although I did get some bites by a little sand-fly type thing and the girls were bitten by an elephant fly (again, thank goodness for the medical kits—that's been getting a lot of use with the fingers in the fan, a cut on the forehead for Annette, other boo-boos, stomach issues, insect bites, blisters—but we've handled it all). The elephants dropped us off at a village—very poor huts with a lot of dirt and chickens running around. I couldn't live like that. They tried to sell us trinkets but I wasn't interested.

The taxi driver picked us up and dropped us at a river where we got on some bamboo rafts and floated down the river. It was nice to try it but an hour is as long as you want to do that. The rafts are simply tied together with bamboo twine, so they are not waterproof. At one point, I noticed our backpack with our cameras had fallen off the raised seat onto the bamboo. I picked it up and seconds later, water came gushing over when we went through some “rapids”. That could have been bad. Came home to another great dinner.

03.21.2006

Chiang Dao—Chiang Dao Nest—Day 3

The hotel packed a picnic lunch for us today and arranged a driver to the waterfalls. It was very pretty and of course, we had a couple of boo boos (thank goodness for our medical kit). After the waterfalls, we went to the hot springs. They were really hot—90-100 degrees Celsius—I thought it said Fahrenheit. That's almost double. We only stayed for a short time since it was too hot to go inside. We then went to a local pool, where the girls had a lot of fun. Wicha brought Joseph and another friend, so they had fun playing with them. No naps today so the girls were pooped in the evening, so an early night for all of us.

03.22.2006

Chiang Mai—Deva Montra—Day 1

We took the taxi from Chiang Dao nest to Deva Montra Boutique Resort and Spa. The grounds and accommodation were amazing again. Only ~$100 for a huge two-bedroom apartment in a top-class spa resort. We took the afternoon easy and went swimming. A very comfy evening with air-conditioning, and an early night

03.23.2006

Chiang Mai—Deva Montra—Day 2

We got up early and went to the zoo. There were several animals that I had no idea existed. It's so amazing going to second world places since they're not so much into safety as the U.S. There were a number of ways that the kids could have hurt themselves, which someone would have sued for in the U.S. The kids loved the zoo and they decided that they also love riding golf carts, motorbikes and elephants—seems like an open-air, no seat-belt theme. In the afternoon, I had a massage at the spa. It cost ~$30 (ten times the Chanthaburi massage), but it was in a top-class place that would have been ten times the price in the U.S. The spa was truly amazing and beautiful. I've had four massages now and I'm seeing a difference. The older women are more experienced and have stronger hands. The good spas have a good screening process to pick the good ladies. I could easily retire to Thailand and get a massage once per week, although I'd like it to be pressure traditional Thai rather than Swedish. I'm going to have a tough time paying ten to twenty times more for a massage in the U.S. when I get back.

03.24.2006

Chiang Mai—Deva Montra—Day 3

Annette and I stayed and played at the hotel and pool today while Darren and Dominique went to the market. We also split up the girls at breakfast so that Dominique could focus on her reading. We're trying to make an effort to have one-on-one time and alone time so that we don't get tired of each other. I really enjoyed taking it easy at the hotel. It was a very relaxing day. Darren really needed to get out and explore—he really feels restless if he's in one place too long—it's funny that we're so different. It's also funny to see the difference in the kids. Dominique always wants to go wherever anyone is going, while Annette always wants to stay.

Overall, Chiang Mai has been really nice, although I'm not going to miss the smoke from the forest fires.

03.25.2006

Chiang Mai to Bangkok—Day 1

The girls were great on the short flight. We took it easy at the hotel and caught up on e-mails. We went to a Thai dinner and dance show in the evening. The show was only 20 minutes but the girls really enjoyed it. Dominique wanted to get her picture taken with the beautiful dancers, so we paid ~$5 for a pretty tacky picture, but it captured her excitement of being there. She said it was like a “date” because we went out at night. Annette didn't want any part of the picture. We got back to the hotel around 8:30 pm and the girls fell right to sleep. The hotel is very comfy with a great pool. The room has a kitchenette, so we discovered the challenge of shopping and cooking with items marked only in Thai (at least in languages like Spanish, the letters and numbers are like ours, so you can make out some of the words). The hotel was perfect for us but it is in a big city, so neither Darren nor I have been too excited about doing too much outside of the hotel.

03.26.2006

Bangkok—Day 2

I kept the girls all morning so that Darren could go to the computer store. We went to a small shopping center next to the hotel to see if we could get an extra hot-weather outfit for Annette. I brought five for each of them, but she can't re-use her because she gets them so dirty, so we need to do wash at least every five days. I couldn't find anything that was a good deal. Everything (shirts, tops, etc.) were ~500 baht (~$13), which seems too high after seeing clothes for 30 baht in Chantaburi. They had fun playing in a small arcade, and then we went out to look at the stores along the street. People didn't touch the kids so much here since they're used to seeing foreigners, but they did get a couple of grabs. We spent the afternoon at the pool and took it easy in the evening. It feels good to have an easy day every once in a while, just to catch up

03.27.2006

Bangkok—Day 3

I decided to take the girls exploring to allow Darren a chance to get caught up on the website and e-mails. We found the pier near the hotel and spontaneously decided to take a ferry to Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha) and the Grand Palace. It was nice to see both of them but it was very touristy, so I'm glad we only spent a couple of hours. We spent the afternoon in the pool and I swam some laps for exercise—that's very strenuous. We ordered room service to have early nights since we have to get up at 4:30 am tomorrow-- $13 for all four of us—a much better deal that Asari, which was about that much for each hamburger.

Overall, a very good trip to Thailand, although Darren and I both prefer to avoid the cities. Now I've started to look into places to stay in Australia, which is tough—much less value for money and more spread out.


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